12 - The Course of the Nile

Original date of article: October 2019

Trying to understand Herodotos.

[1] Preface [Quote] “Regarding the past of Egypt, Herodotos was of course unable to give an eyewitness account. For his historical information, he mainly relied on oral communications. For the history of non-Greeks, he liked to rely on indigenous spokesmen, and preferably people who were well-informed, such as priests in important shrines. There is nothing to indicate that he spoke languages ​​other than Greek. He must therefore have regularly used the services of interpreters. The quality of the information obtained in this way certainly left something to be desired. Not only because of the translation problems, but also because his informers, from time to time, probably have told him nonsense.” [End quote]

One of the major problems in his descriptions is Lake Moeris, much of what he says about it simply cannot be correct. Yet it is quite possible that he left us very important information, but we don’t understand what he meant.

The hypothesis proposed here is as follows:

In the stories told to Herodotos in connection with Lake Moeris, along with the things he says he saw with his own eyes, it actually concerns two different large lakes without Herodotos realizing it.

Herodotos may never have visited the Fayoum delta and had no idea that there was a very large lake there, in particular Lake Moeris. He himself has seen a large lake but that must have been more central, much closer to the Nile. Herodotos never heard the name of the latter and it is quite possible that the Egyptians didn’t even give it a name. Herodotos must have thought that the lake he saw was Lake Moeris, in fact it must have been the "central" lake on the Nile. To avoid further confusion, let us call this large water the Sakkara lake. In further descriptions the name "Moeris lake" is replaced by the "Sakkara lake" if it is assumed that it couldn’t be the real Moeris lake.

The course of the Nile, long before the time of Herodotos.

Translation from Dutch version [1] - Book 2 - 4: “One of their stories is that the first human who ruled Egypt was called Min. At the time, all of Egypt, except the region of Thebes, was a swamp area, while the land that lies to the north of the Sakkara Lake, one week upstream from the sea, was one large water surface.”

Older English version of book 2 - 4: “The first human king of Egypt, they said, was Min. In his time all Egypt save the Thebaic province was a marsh : all the country that we now see was then covered by water, north of the Saqqara Lake which lake is seven days' journey up the river from the sea.”

Herodotos describes the Nile from the sea on until the city of the Sun and even much further upstream. He describes the course of the Nile here as one line of consecutive areas. The lake he talked about must have been laying on the same line the Nile describes. So, this couldn’t be the Moeris lake, which lies on the other side of the western hills. Therefore it has to be Lake Sakkara instead.

English Version:

Book 2-99: “Thus far all I have said is the outcome of my own sight and judgment and inquiry. Henceforth I will record Egyptian chronicles, according to that which I have heard, adding thereto somewhat of what I myself have seen. The priests told me that Min was the first king of Egypt, and that first he separated Memphis from the Nile by a dam. All the river had flowed close under the sandy mountains on the Libyan side, but Min made the southern bend of it which begins about an hundred furlongs above Memphis by damming the stream ; thereby he dried up the ancient course, and carried the river by a channel so that it flowed midway between the hills. And to this day the Persians keep careful guard over this bend of the river, strengthening its dam every year, that it may keep the current in; for were the Nile to burst his dykes and overflow here, all Memphis were in danger of drowning. Then, when this first king Min had made what he thus cut off to be dry land, he first founded in it that city which is now called Memphis. For even Memphis lies in the narrow part of Egypt.

Translation from Dutch Version:

Book 2 - 99: “So far my report [from Herodotos] was based solely on what I have seen, conceived and researched. From now on I will tell the stories I have heard from the Egyptians. Occasionally I add a personal experience to it. For example, I know from the priests that Min, the first pharaoh, was the man who tended (?) the land around Memphis. Before his time, the river ran along the sand hills on the Libyan border, but this king drained the original bed by damming the southern curvature, a good eighteen kilometers below Memphis.On the land that Min, the first king, had won by the diversion of the Nile, he had built the city currently called Memphis. This place is just in the narrow part of Egypt."

“Before the time of king Min, the Nile flowed along the sand hills on the Libyan border. Min has given the current a different course so that it streams between both hill ridges (mountain ranges).”

Once, the Nile flowed into the Libyan desert along a passage in the western hills. The only location where this is possible now flows the Bahr_Yussef channel.

For the Bahr_Yussef canal see:

For the Lake Moeris see:

The Bahr_Yussef channel flows through a lower area in the western hills into the Fayoum oasis.

Google Maps.

Whatever remains of the water from the Bahr_Yussef channel
ends up in the Moeris lake, now called the Birket Qarun.

Google Maps

In prehistory, the Moeris lake was much larger,
it was a freshwater lake of 1270 to 1600 km² in size.
At present Birket Qarun has become a much smaller saltwater lake,
the surface of that lake is about 43 meters below sea level.

Google Maps

The hypothesis defended here is as follows:

Where the Bahr_Yussef channel runs nowadays, it was once the Nile itself that flowed through it. The vast majority of the Nile water flowed into the Moeris lake. Due to the constant supply of slip, the ravine between the two mountain ranges became filled up with slip and sand and the course of the Nile became laying higher and higher. It was precisely the supply of all that slip that made the Nile to follow a different course. More and more of the Nile water found a way between the two hill ridges (mountain ranges) to the sea, less and less water flowed towards the Moeris lake.

Min would have given the Nile a different course so that from then on he passed through both hill ridges. This was not the work of Min alone, for the most part it was a natural evolution of the Nile itself. King Min may well have carried out some major works, which accelerated that natural process.

In fact, the story should end here. According to most archaeologists, this story of Herodotos is totally impossible. That all the Nile water would have flowed into the Moeris lake? Impossible! Even the former Moeris lake of 1700 km² would not have been sufficient, according to scientists, the entire Libyan desert would have been flooded.

However, Herodotos itself has given an adequate explanation. But again the question arises about which lake he was involved when he mentions certain data.

English version:

Book 2 – 150: “Further, the people of the country said that this lake issues by an underground stream into the Libyan Syrtis, and stretches inland towards the west along the mountains that are above Memphis.”

Translation from Dutch version:

Book 2 - 150: "The residents of that region told me that there is an underground connection that runs from that lake to the Sirte in Libya and penetrates through the west side along the mountain region south of Memfis to the interior."

In this case the text is indeed about the real Moeris lake, in that lake was and perhaps still is an underground connection where all the water of the Nile flowed through and ended up in the river Sirte. Impossible?

Fontaine de Vaucluse.

Let's take a look, global seen actually not that far from Egypt, on the other side of the Mediterranean. In the south of France, in the department of Vaucluse, in the village with the name Fontaine-de-Vaucluse there is a fountain with the name, yes indeed, "Fontaine de Vaucluse" (source of Vaucluse).


See Wikipedia:

Monde Souterrain de Norbert Casteret - Fontaine-de-Vaucluse 27-05-2018
Work from Paul Hermans.
See Wikimedia commons

In reality, this should rather be called a huge siphon. All the melt- and rain water from the Mont Ventoux area flows into a valley that, however, offers no way out for that water except for this underground siphon. This source with the lowest point at –308 meters is the only starting point of an underground basin of 1200 km2 that collects the water from Mount Ventoux, the mountains of Vaucluse and Mount Lure.

The fountain, or spring, located at the foot of a steep limestone cliff of 230 meters high,is the largest spring in France.

The top of the cliff 230 meters high.

The Vaucluse fountain at about its lowest level in the summer.
At that time the water escapes due to cracks in the rocks
about 20 meters lower, and ensures a constant flow in the river Sorgue.

The fountain rises enormously in March for about 5 weeks and then decreases again.
The increased stream of water causes the Sorgue River to swell and flood.


Picture taken by Abujoy


 See Wikimedia Commons.

It's the fourth largest source in the world,
with an annual flow of 630 million cubic meters.

See Wikipedia in English:

See also Wikipedia in French:

It must have been pretty much the same for the Nile and the Moeris lake, the water level in that lake used to be much higher and the greater pressure of that water column must have pushed the water through an underground connection (siphon) where it came to the surface again, at the back of the rocky hills, and flowed into the Qattara depression to form beyond there the Sirte River.

Google Maps


Where exactly the Sirte flowed is perhaps no longer traceable. Originally there were freshwater springs in the oases in the area, gradually becoming saltwater ponds. The water from the original freshwater springs must have come from the Nile. If these oases are connected in one line on a map, we may get a picture of the earlier course of the Sirte.

1 - The Moeris lake and the hill ridge on its northwestern edge. There was (and is) an underground connection, possibly below that hill ridge.

2 - The Qattara depression, up to 133 meters below sea level. How would this have come about? By huge amounts of water that flowed from an underground fountain?

3 - The Siwa Oasis with lake Siwa, originally also a freshwater lake that has now become a saltwater lake. And, there are more oases on that line.

4 - The Wadi al Fareigh: The name Wadi refers to the Arabic name for an often dry river valley.

5 - On an older map you can see that that bay was formerly called the "Great Syrte".

6 - In the bay itself there is a city called "Sirte".

How many coincidences must there be in total in order to stop talking about coincidence. It becomes clear that the River Sirte really existed and that there is a good chance that it ended up in "The Great Sirte" bay.


1 - An underground connection from Lake Moeris to somewhere in the Qattara depression(?).

     This depression partly or completely filled with water?

2 - The Sirte River from the depression to Lake Siwa.

3 - The Sirte continuing towards Wadi al Fareigh, this is now a dried-out river.

Possible scenario:

By diverting the Nile, the Moeris lake was no longer fed with fresh water, the water level dropped and water flowed no more through the underground connection (siphon). The Qattara depression as well as the Sirte river dried up. No freshwater flowed into the oases anymore, but instead seawater seeped inside. The oases became saltwater ponds. Even the Moeris lake, originally a large freshwater lake, visibly shrunk and became a salt-water plain.